Chemical Equations: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Michelle Vannoy
Do you remember learning in math class that equations show that two things are equal? Well, chemical equations are similar in that they must always be balanced. In this lesson, you will learn what chemical equations are and how to balance them.

The Balancing Game

Have you ever played the game Topple? You must place your pieces on a platform that is held up on a thin pole. The key to the game is to evenly place the pieces on the sides, keeping the platform balanced. The more players and pieces involved, the harder this is.

Scientists also play a balancing game when they work with chemical equations. They have to make sure that the equation stays balanced on both sides. Just like in Topple, if one side becomes unbalanced then the whole equation may 'come crashing down.'

What is a Chemical Equation?

A chemical equation is a way to represent a chemical reaction using element symbols. Chemical equations have two sides: the reactant side and the product side.


Chemical equations have a reactant and a product side.
Chemical Equation Parts


Matter cannot be created or destroyed. This means that, after a chemical reaction has taken place, you still need to have the same amount of each element on the reactant side as you do on the product side. It has to stay balanced, just like the way you have to keep all sides of the platform balanced in Topple!

The Key to Balancing

There is only one atom of each element in an equation, unless the element has a coefficient or a subscript with it. A coefficient is a number written in front of the element, while a subscript is a number that comes after the element, written smaller and slightly below the element.

A subscript tells how many atoms of that element there are. The coefficients are multiplied by every element or its subscript to determine the number of atoms. If the element is listed more than once on a side, you add the atoms together to get a total.

So how do we balance an equation? To start, we count the number of atoms of each element. Once we know the total number of atoms of each element, we can change or add coefficients to make the sides balance. Important: We can NEVER change or add subscripts!

Practice

Now, let's go through the steps to balance the following equation:


An equation before and after it is balanced.
balancing equations


1) Count the atoms on the reactant and product side separately in the original equation:

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